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Concept: Carbon cycle


Terrestrial ecosystems play a significant role in the global carbon cycle and offset a large fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The terrestrial carbon sink is increasing, yet the mechanisms responsible for its enhancement, and implications for the growth rate of atmospheric CO2, remain unclear. Here using global carbon budget estimates, ground, atmospheric and satellite observations, and multiple global vegetation models, we report a recent pause in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2, and a decline in the fraction of anthropogenic emissions that remain in the atmosphere, despite increasing anthropogenic emissions. We attribute the observed decline to increases in the terrestrial sink during the past decade, associated with the effects of rising atmospheric CO2 on vegetation and the slowdown in the rate of warming on global respiration. The pause in the atmospheric CO2 growth rate provides further evidence of the roles of CO2 fertilization and warming-induced respiration, and highlights the need to protect both existing carbon stocks and regions, where the sink is growing rapidly.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Carbon, Climate change, Bicarbonate, Carbon cycle, Global warming


The role of soil organic carbon in global carbon cycles is receiving increasing attention both as a potentially large and uncertain source of CO2 emissions in response to predicted global temperature rises, and as a natural sink for carbon able to reduce atmospheric CO2. There is general agreement that the technical potential for sequestration of carbon in soil is significant, and some consensus on the magnitude of that potential. Croplands worldwide could sequester between 0.90 and 1.85 Pg C/yr, i.e. 26-53% of the target of the “4p1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate”. The importance of intensively cultivated regions such as North America, Europe, India and intensively cultivated areas in Africa, such as Ethiopia, is highlighted. Soil carbon sequestration and the conservation of existing soil carbon stocks, given its multiple benefits including improved food production, is an important mitigation pathway to achieve the less than 2 °C global target of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Agriculture, Precipitation, Soil, Carbon, Carbon cycle, Global warming, Land management


Abrupt perturbations of the global carbon cycle during the early Eocene are associated with rapid global warming events, which are analogous in many ways to present greenhouse warming. Mammal dwarfing has been observed, along with other changes in community structure, during the largest of these ancient global warming events, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum [PETM; ~56 million years ago (Ma)]. We show that mammalian dwarfing accompanied the subsequent, smaller-magnitude warming event known as Eocene Thermal Maximum 2 [ETM2 (~53 Ma)]. Statistically significant decrease in body size during ETM2 is observed in two of four taxonomic groups analyzed in this study and is most clearly observed in early equids (horses). During ETM2, the best-sampled lineage of equids decreased in size by ~14%, as opposed to ~30% during the PETM. Thus, dwarfing appears to be a common evolutionary response of some mammals during past global warming events, and the extent of dwarfing seems related to the magnitude of the event.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Mammal, Horse, Bat, Carbon cycle, Eocene, Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, Paleocene


Forests are major components of the global carbon cycle, providing substantial feedback to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Our ability to understand and predict changes in the forest carbon cycle-particularly net primary productivity and carbon storage-increasingly relies on models that represent biological processes across several scales of biological organization, from tree leaves to forest stands. Yet, despite advances in our understanding of productivity at the scales of leaves and stands, no consensus exists about the nature of productivity at the scale of the individual tree, in part because we lack a broad empirical assessment of whether rates of absolute tree mass growth (and thus carbon accumulation) decrease, remain constant, or increase as trees increase in size and age. Here we present a global analysis of 403 tropical and temperate tree species, showing that for most species mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size. Thus, large, old trees do not act simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees; at the extreme, a single big tree can add the same amount of carbon to the forest within a year as is contained in an entire mid-sized tree. The apparent paradoxes of individual tree growth increasing with tree size despite declining leaf-level and stand-level productivity can be explained, respectively, by increases in a tree’s total leaf area that outpace declines in productivity per unit of leaf area and, among other factors, age-related reductions in population density. Our results resolve conflicting assumptions about the nature of tree growth, inform efforts to undertand and model forest carbon dynamics, and have additional implications for theories of resource allocation and plant senescence.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carbon dioxide, Senescence, Carbon, Tree, Primary production, Carbon cycle, Chemical oceanography


The rates of marine deoxygenation leading to Cretaceous Oceanic Anoxic Events are poorly recognized and constrained. If increases in primary productivity are the primary driver of these episodes, progressive oxygen loss from global waters should predate enhanced carbon burial in underlying sediments-the diagnostic Oceanic Anoxic Event relic. Thallium isotope analysis of organic-rich black shales from Demerara Rise across Oceanic Anoxic Event 2 reveals evidence of expanded sediment-water interface deoxygenation ~43 ± 11 thousand years before the globally recognized carbon cycle perturbation. This evidence for rapid oxygen loss leading to an extreme ancient climatic event has timely implications for the modern ocean, which is already experiencing large-scale deoxygenation.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Oceanography, Carbon, Cretaceous, Carbon cycle, Chemical oceanography, Anoxic event


The δD temperature proxy in Antarctic ice cores varies in parallel with CO2through glacial cycles. However, these variables display a puzzling asynchrony. Well-dated records of Southern Ocean temperature will provide crucial information because the Southern Ocean is likely key in regulating CO2variations. Here, we perform multiple isotopic analyses on an Antarctic ice core and estimate temperature variations at this site and in the oceanic moisture source over the past 720,000 years, which extend the longest records by 300,000 years. Antarctic temperature is affected by large variations in local insolation that are induced by obliquity. At the obliquity periodicity, the Antarctic and ocean temperatures lag annual mean insolation. Further, the magnitude of the phase lag is minimal during low eccentricity periods, suggesting that secular changes in the global carbon cycle and the ocean circulation modulate the phase relationship among temperatures, CO2and insolation in the obliquity frequency band.

Concepts: Oxygen, Menstrual cycle, Frequency, Antarctica, Carbon cycle, Ice core, Southern Ocean, Antarctic


The deep ocean, covering a vast expanse of the globe, relies almost exclusively on a food supply originating from primary production in surface waters. With well-documented warming of oceanic surface waters and conflicting reports of increasing and decreasing primary production trends, questions persist about how such changes impact deep ocean communities. A 24-y time-series study of sinking particulate organic carbon (food) supply and its utilization by the benthic community was conducted in the abyssal northeast Pacific (∼4,000-m depth). Here we show that previous findings of food deficits are now punctuated by large episodic surpluses of particulate organic carbon reaching the sea floor, which meet utilization. Changing surface ocean conditions are translated to the deep ocean, where decadal peaks in supply, remineralization, and sequestration of organic carbon have broad implications for global carbon budget projections.

Concepts: United States, Oceanography, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Mariana Trench, Carbon cycle, Deep sea, Abyssal zone


Biological carbon fixation is a key step in the global carbon cycle that regulates the atmosphere’s composition while producing the food we eat and the fuels we burn. Approximately one-third of global carbon fixation occurs in an overlooked algal organelle called the pyrenoid. The pyrenoid contains the CO2-fixing enzyme Rubisco and enhances carbon fixation by supplying Rubisco with a high concentration of CO2 Since the discovery of the pyrenoid more that 130 y ago, the molecular structure and biogenesis of this ecologically fundamental organelle have remained enigmatic. Here we use the model green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to discover that a low-complexity repeat protein, Essential Pyrenoid Component 1 (EPYC1), links Rubisco to form the pyrenoid. We find that EPYC1 is of comparable abundance to Rubisco and colocalizes with Rubisco throughout the pyrenoid. We show that EPYC1 is essential for normal pyrenoid size, number, morphology, Rubisco content, and efficient carbon fixation at low CO2 We explain the central role of EPYC1 in pyrenoid biogenesis by the finding that EPYC1 binds Rubisco to form the pyrenoid matrix. We propose two models in which EPYC1’s four repeats could produce the observed lattice arrangement of Rubisco in the Chlamydomonas pyrenoid. Our results suggest a surprisingly simple molecular mechanism for how Rubisco can be packaged to form the pyrenoid matrix, potentially explaining how Rubisco packaging into a pyrenoid could have evolved across a broad range of photosynthetic eukaryotes through convergent evolution. In addition, our findings represent a key step toward engineering a pyrenoid into crops to enhance their carbon fixation efficiency.

Concepts: DNA, Photosynthesis, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Plastid, Eukaryote, Carbon, Carbon cycle


Anthropogenically-forced changes in ocean chemistry at both the global and regional scale have the potential to negatively impact calcifying plankton, which play a key role in ecosystem functioning and marine carbon cycling. We cultured a globally important calcifying marine plankter (the foraminifer, Globigerina bulloides) under an ecologically relevant range of seawater pH (7.5 to 8.3 total scale). Multiple metrics of calcification and physiological performance varied with pH. At pH > 8.0, increased calcification occurred without a concomitant rise in respiration rates. However, as pH declined from 8.0 to 7.5, calcification and oxygen consumption both decreased, suggesting a reduced ability to precipitate shell material accompanied by metabolic depression. Repair of spines, important for both buoyancy and feeding, was also reduced at pH < 7.7. The dependence of calcification, respiration, and spine repair on seawater pH suggests that foraminifera will likely be challenged by future ocean conditions. Furthermore, the nature of these effects has the potential to actuate changes in vertical transport of organic and inorganic carbon, perturbing feedbacks to regional and global marine carbon cycling. The biological impacts of seawater pH have additional, important implications for the use of foraminifera as paleoceanographic indicators.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Carbon, Ocean, Carbon cycle, Foraminifera, Ocean acidification, Chemical oceanography


Land-use change occurs nowhere more rapidly than in the tropics, where the imbalance between deforestation and forest regrowth has large consequences for the global carbon cycle. However, considerable uncertainty remains about the rate of biomass recovery in secondary forests, and how these rates are influenced by climate, landscape, and prior land use. Here we analyse aboveground biomass recovery during secondary succession in 45 forest sites and about 1,500 forest plots covering the major environmental gradients in the Neotropics. The studied secondary forests are highly productive and resilient. Aboveground biomass recovery after 20 years was on average 122 megagrams per hectare (Mg ha(-1)), corresponding to a net carbon uptake of 3.05 Mg C ha(-1) yr(-1), 11 times the uptake rate of old-growth forests. Aboveground biomass stocks took a median time of 66 years to recover to 90% of old-growth values. Aboveground biomass recovery after 20 years varied 11.3-fold (from 20 to 225 Mg ha(-1)) across sites, and this recovery increased with water availability (higher local rainfall and lower climatic water deficit). We present a biomass recovery map of Latin America, which illustrates geographical and climatic variation in carbon sequestration potential during forest regrowth. The map will support policies to minimize forest loss in areas where biomass resilience is naturally low (such as seasonally dry forest regions) and promote forest regeneration and restoration in humid tropical lowland areas with high biomass resilience.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Ecology, Climate, Tropics, Ecosystem, Carbon, Carbon cycle, Biochar